Should there be a TV Ban on Kellyanne?
We’re nearing the midpoint of Donald Trump’s first-term tenure - assuming he makes it to the finish line - yet we in the media still haven’t decided whether it’s wise or wasteful to award air time to Kellyanne Conway.
Cosmic questions abound. Would the cable shows violate the spirit of the First Amendment if they refuse to book the empress of alternative facts - or would they be performing a public service? Where’s the red line that separates the policing of lies from the suppression of speech?
Earlier this week she was on CNN, lying again. The topic this time was the hush money that Trump paid his extramarital paramours on the eve of the 2016 election. Conway breezily declared that her boss didn’t even know about the hush money until quite recently. She lied: “In April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else, were told about the payments.”
In truth, we learned this past summer - thanks to a released audio recording - that Trump personally discussed at least one of the hush payments with Michael Cohen... in August of 2016.
She disgorged lots of air pollution that night, particularly when she disputed host Chris Cuomo’s observation that Trump is a serial liar. Her response: “You’re saying he’s not telling the truth. That’s a slur. That’s a slur.” This woman has lies within her lies within her lies. She’s like a Russian nesting doll.
That gig on CNN - which lasted a torturous 39 minutes - prompted Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan to argue vociferously for a Kellyanne ban. Sullivan wrote that “it’s time for the mainstream media to enter the No Kellyanne Zone.” Putting Conway on the air is “journalistic malpractice.” At a time when an instinctively autocratic regime is warring against truth, “it’s more important than ever not to give falsehoods a megaphone...When news organizations hand a megaphone to lies - or liars - they do actual harm.”
Sullivan was actually freshening an argument that dates back to the dawn of the Trump occupation.
I still remember a time, shortly before Inauguration Day, when Conway lied on the air that the Trump-Russia scandal was fake news, that it was just a bunch of “Democrats” stirring up trouble “after the election results are in.” In truth, 17 intelligence agencies had warned about Russia’s pro-Trump campaign invasion back on Oct. 7, 2016 - in a report that Trump had ignored. And I still remember a TV appearance, in February 2017, when she rejected the publicly available evidence that disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn had compromised himself, and America, in his backstage dealings with Russia. Conway shrugged, “That’s one characterization.”
I understand the temptation to nix her. But forgive me for introducing a little nuance.
The press, in the spirit of fairness, needs to engage with defenders of the Trump regime. The eternal challenge, however, is to find quality defenders - Trumpists who can do the job without lying a lot. It’s tough to engage with a regime that lies as it breathes. And hosting Conway, or anyone else from the depths of that bottomless barrel, runs the obvious risk of pumping verbal swill into viewers’ heads.
But that’s always the risk of free speech. Lies have permeated our discourse since the earliest days of the republic, when John Adams’ allies warned that if Thomas Jefferson were elected, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.”
Perhaps it’s better to keep her on the air; that way, we expose the regime’s jabberwocky. Conway herself tweeted last year, “His message is my message.” And most Americans at this point are wise to her act anyway; despite her longstanding lies about the Trump-Russia scandal, a landslide 62 percent currently believes that Trump has not been truthful about it.
And lest we forget, she’s being checked and balanced in her own household. The other night, roughly one hour after Conway denied on CNN that Trump is a liar, her husband George surfaced on Twitter: “Given that Trump has repeatedly lied about the Daniels and McDougal (hush money) payments - and given that he lies about virtually everything else - to the point that his own personal lawyer described him as a ‘f***ing liar’ - why should we take his word over that of federal prosecutors?”
Wait, I have a better idea: Keep her on the air, and give her a show with George. The ratings would be boffo.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.